What do you do if your canoe trip begins or ends with a long open water crossing? You can paddle the big water, of course, but it's time-consuming and possibly dangerous. A float plane is a safe (but expensive) option - and that's only if there's a suitable landing spot. On Hudson Bay and on many sprawling Canadian lakes, there isn't. The alternative is to charter a power boat to tow your canoe to a nearby village or fishing camp where there's road, rail or float plane access.
Canoeing texts make towing sound like a lark. It isn't. If a wind comes up, the pilot drives too fast, turns too fast or just doesn't know what he's doing, you've got big trouble. My first tow - 35 miles across Wollaston Lake, Saskatchewan - nearly ended in disaster. One canoe capsized and water poured over the transom of the boat and nearly sank it. Fortunately, we were able to make a protective cove and put things right. Seven subsequent tows have been problem-free, though not without trepidation.
Here's what I've learned over the years:
Some paddlers fill their canoe with gear, thinking this will free up passenger space in the power boat and make the canoe more stable when it's towed. *Wrong*!
A heavily loaded canoe responds poorly to the pitch of waves and the wake of a power boat. It will plow and take on water as towing speeds rise, or when the lake gets rough. If a towed canoe capsizes, it may act as a sea anchor and swamp the tow boat from behind!
1. Tow on board if you can. If not, tow empty and in tandem.
2. Attach the tow line to a lining hole near cutwater or rig a harness around each boat.
3. Carry a knife and watch the towed canoe(s).
4. Dress warm and for rain (boat spray).
Cliff Jacobson is a professional canoe guide and outfitter for the Science Museum of Minnesota, a wilderness canoeing consultant, and the author of more than a dozen top-selling books on camping and canoeing. www.cliffcanoe.com
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